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Lolo National Forest officials plan prescribed burns

by Lake County Leader
| October 4, 2021 1:00 PM

As wildfire season slows down, firefighters across the Lolo National Forest will shift their focus to prescribed burning operations to reduce hazardous fuels, restore wildlife habitat, and better protect communities from future wildfires.

“We have been on the defensive all summer and now is the time of the year when we have the opportunity to be proactive and meet our forest-wide goals of reducing hazardous fuels in key areas near communities,” said Jeff Hayes, Lolo National Forest Fuels Specialist. “Over the coming weeks, we will be burning on days that maximize safety and minimize smoke impacts to restore healthy forest conditions.”

Both underburning and pile burning will be conducted this fall in previous treatment areas to eliminate slash/woody debris and promote nutrient recycling in the soil.

Underburning, a type of prescribed fire treatment, ignites vegetation under the forest canopy and focuses on the consumption of surface fuels.

Frequent, low-intensity fire is essential for improving habitat conditions for wildlife by regenerating fire-adapted vegetation and encouraging the growth of new forage for wildlife browse.

Additionally, prescribed fires help to reduce crown fire potential by eliminating dead and diseased vegetation and ladder fuels. Ladder fuels provide opportunity for a surface fire to move into the tree canopy creating a ‘crown fire.’ Crown fires are much more difficult to control during wildfire responses.

Pending favorable conditions, the following prescribed burning operations could begin as soon as this week:

Missoula Ranger District

Ignition of up to 30 acres could begin as soon as Wednesday, Oct. 6, in the Pattee Canyon Maintenance project in the Larchcamp Loop area located four miles southeast of Missoula. Smoke may be visible from the Missoula Valley.

Seeley Lake Ranger District

Ignition of up to 60 acres in the East Colt Summit prescribed burn unit will begin Monday, Oct. 4. The unit is located 15 miles north of Seeley Lake.

Ignition of more acres in this area could be ongoing throughout the week depending on progress, conditions, and smoke dispersal. Smoke may be visible from Seeley Lake, Holland Lake, Roveros Flats, and the Highway 83 corridor.

Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger District

Ignition of up to 126 acres could begin as soon as Tuesday, Oct. 5, in the Clear Creek Drainage and Clear Creek timber harvest units located 2-6 miles southwest of Montana 200 and Thompson Falls. Prescribed burning will prepare the area for future planting activities. Smoke may be visible from Thompson Falls and the Prospect drainage.

Ninemile Ranger District

Ignition of up to 92 acres in the McCormick Creek-Frenchtown Face prescribed burn units located 10 miles north of Alberton could begin as soon as Monday, Oct. 4, and last through the rest of the week depending on progress and conditions. Smoke may be visible from the Ninemile Valley, McCormick Creek Drainage, the I-90 corridor between Missoula and Alberton.

These prescribed burns are being implemented with partnership funding from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program to improve wildlife habitat.

Prescribed burning operations will only be conducted if conditions are favorable. Favorable conditions include correct parameters for temperature, wind, fuel moisture, and ventilation for smoke.

When prescription criteria are met, firefighters implement, monitor, and patrol each burn to ensure it meets forest health and public safety goals.

All prescribed burns will be implemented in compliance with Montana air quality standards and coordinated with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the appropriate county health departments to reduce the impacts of smoke to neighbors, cooperators, and surrounding communities.

Smoke may settle in valley bottoms and drainages overnight, but it is expected to dissipate within a few days.

For additional information about these projects follow the Lolo National Forest on Facebook @lolonationalforest or on Twitter at @LoloNF.